Mary McGunigal, URI student commencement speech

Posted on
Good afternoon honored guests, parents, faculty, and my classmates, the Class of 2012:

I’ll never forget the day I opened a particularly dusty book in the URI library to find a message from 1992. A printed, post-it sized card fluttered out; it was in commemoration of the University’s Centennial, and said: “The University of Rhode Island, 1892-1992.” And under that it read: “URI Students have survived final exams for the past 100 years- so can you!” I believe the same can be said of URI graduates surviving, and thriving, in the real world. Yet there’s one major thing that separates each class, each outgoing wave of graduates, from the next.

It is time. Time has been a fickle friend to us these past four years—always in short supply when deadlines loom, practically nonexistent when all we need is a little more. Most of us probably can’t believe how quickly this day has come. We’ve all chosen to spend a great deal of precious time here at URI, and in exchange URI has given us ways to spend it doing what we love—time to learn, to research, to discover.

If I had to name one thing the class of 2012 excels at, it’s the ability to spend our time doing what we’re passionate about. I see passion in the graceful limbs of dancers in late-night practice, in the glinting brass instruments of the pep band, in the knitted brows topped with orange bandannas of the Humans versus Zombies players. Time is a wonderful gift that’s enabled us to do exceptional things here.

It is astounding how much we’ve collectively achieved in 4 years’ time. Getting to this point is already a major success; as any one of us can testify, college is not a test of time but of survival: survival of the 4-year sprint over hurdles of exams and fees and personal sacrifice. Upon arrival at URI, our only tools for survival were tangible: our student ID, and maybe a campus map. As we prepare to leave, our tools are an enlightened mind tempered by experience, coupled with an education that serves as our map for life.

That’s not to say that what we’ve studied here is an ironclad blueprint for the rest of our lives. One great thing about URI students is that our majors do not define us. My major is classical studies, which basically means I had to justify to my parents why spending 4 years studying Greek mythology seemed like a good idea. However, our time at URI has taught crucial lessons about identifying what you want and seeking it. Failure is not something to fear, because each failure brings us one step closer to our dreams.

URI has prepared us uniquely for postgraduate life. Some of our most valuable learning experiences likely did not happen within the traditional classroom. I’ve had the privilege of taking one class spent outdoors building with Habitat for Humanity during spring break. This was a special bonding experience that I don’t think I would have gotten out of other institutions. URI has the happy union of exciting classes and students eager to fill them. Take it from someone who’s seen many times the sad blue square indicating a closed course on e-Campus.

URI is home to both a diversely passionate student body and amazing people who go above and beyond what the verb “working” here implies. They encourage us and set no limits on what they believe we can achieve. If you come up with a creative project, URI answers with grant money; if you want to form a club that doesn’t even exist, the Student Senate applauds you—how else can we explain the existence of our Quidditch team? This celebrated innovation is a model for how we should approach postgraduate life; with a creative spirit and the self-sufficiency to create our own possibilities.

With our URI degrees, I’m positive that we are prepared to better the lives of others around us, because I’ve already witnessed a drive to change the world in the Class of 2012. This class volunteers, tutors, mentors, engineers and designs; we are agents of change. What we leave behind here at URI is nothing tangible, no engravings or shiny plaques. It’s far more valuable—it’s the ways we have shaped others’ lives interwoven with our own during our time here. URI has gotten us excited and inspired for how we wish to shape the world we are about to enter as alumni, and as we leave the nation’s smallest state, we know in our hearts it has changed us in the biggest ways. Somewhere between learning the Rhody fight song at orientation and buying our caps and gowns, we grew up. We experienced vicissitudes in our worldviews and values.

So here we are at the other end, having survived URI and the test of time. We’ve had snow days and flood days, high days and low days, and the literal uphill battle of getting to class. This survival would not have been possible without the support of our friends and families. They’ve given us the gifts of creativity and passion, and URI has nourished these gifts.

I wish everyone the best as we step forward to receive a piece of paper that will be the first of many future accomplishments. Considering life is only so long, I would advise not worrying about being limited by time, and instead concern ourselves with making it count. Let’s stay devoted to our passions, and the seeds URI has planted within us will blossom into a fruitful future. Our broad education assures this bright future. I found studying the humanities just as valuable as the sciences, because it prompts the asking of enduring questions at the core of our attempts to solve problems and seek truth. In tribute to my Classics education, I’ll close by quoting from Seneca: “The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.” Thank-you.